Cult Cinema: Predator 2 (1990) – Unsung Hero of a Franchise

Franchises are a common fixture in the world of cinema. This week celebrated the 30th anniversary of Predator, one of the most iconic American science fiction action films ever created. There are on occasion certain entries into a franchise that break with the formalities of their predecessors. Halloween has Season of the Witch and Predator has Predator 2. A dystopian-light satire, Predator 2 uses the man vs. alien vehicle as a means to frame a '90s urban American in a scorching package of violence, environmental chaos, and paranoia. Featuring a refreshingly diverse and unusual ensemble and wonderfully ridiculous story elements, Stephen Hopkins' hyper-violent follow up is a bloody ballad of love written to devotees of elusive cult classics. 

1997. A smog choked Los Angeles in the middle of a violent gang war becomes the hunting ground for a Predator, an extraterrestrial stalker who is drawn to heat and conflict. After one of his own is lost in the crossfire, a street smart detective vows to bring down the alien, no matter the cost. The carbon copy setup, which is housed in a ludicrous package of neo-noir fashion and high tech pistols, ensured that the film would meet critical doom upon its release. The lack of Schwarzenegger and the jungle setting, combined with the outlandish violence and nasty undertones not only didn't resonate with critics, many fans to this day still malign Predator 2. The original film was immediately popular because it spends time building up each of the characters to endear the viewer to their plight. The creature is a mystery for the majority of the film and the narrative transitions between three unique acts that culminates in the ultimate showdown. Jim and John Thomas, building on the excellent foundation of their first script move the location into a near future city, thus departing from the masculine infused jungle and it is here that things begin to spin delightfully out of control. The focus is less on the characters and more on the world around them. 

Danny Glover was cast as the lead after Schwarzenegger dropped out over a salary dispute. His turn as hot-blooded Harrigan is among his best, seamlessly integrating tough guy swagger with the jaded edges of a man who continually dances with darkness. Glover moves through every scene like a living urban legend, a titan of a man who commands respect from his enemies and inspires awe in his comrades. This is the first piece of the film's intricate, but admittedly insane construction. Where the vulnerability of the cast in the first film was its secret weapon, the larger than life satires of archetypes that walk the streets of an all too possible L.A. are what bring the manic components of the film together. The supporting cast is a who's who of character actors, featuring Rueben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Robert Davi, Adam Baldwin, and the insane prince himself, Gary Busey. Morton Downey Jr. has a turn as an opportunistic reporter, mirroring his real escapades with frothing exchanges with Glover and scenes of genuine humor that underscore the subversive ambiance. Bill Paxton rounds out the cast as a deceptively simple comic relief sidekick who quickly, and unsurprisingly, becomes one of the best parts of the entire film. 

Peter Levy's sweaty cinematography captures the primal feelings of a city at war through fast paced shoot outs and brutal sequences of gang on gang violence. The final act involves a city wide chase scene that Levy's kinetic approach perfectly captures, moving from factories to rooftops to spaceships in a manner that feels right at home in Hopkins’ madcap concrete jungle. Flashfire editing and Alan Silvestri's memorable score build on the otherworldly themes of the first film and pull back the curtain further to reveal a dangerous and mysterious place of hunters and victims. The amount of world building done in the script is remarkable. It is brought to life through Rick Simpson's set decoration and Marilyn Vance's unforgettable costume design. The city is a character unto itself, filled with dangerous alleyways and pristine towers of indulgence, while subway cars and industrial warehouses are violated sanctums, powerless against the violent tendencies of men and monsters. The police in particular, with their militaristic combat uniforms (a harbinger unto itself) and detectives with their sweat-soaked linens and straw porkpies enhance the mood, but never to the point of outdistancing the inevitable. 1997 has never looked more like 2017. While the Jamaican and Colombian gangster characters are costumed clichés, their presence in the first act reinforces the idea of escalating violence, the result of which is hilariously experienced in a crowded subway car filled with frustrated and well-armed commuters. 

Available now for digital rental, Predator 2 is an interesting, but admittedly flawed film. Its relation to the original is pointedly weak and its unrelenting excess understandably relegates it to the bowels of some viewers’ preferences. However, it is these bold departures and the film's cynical tone that showcased one of the extreme possibilities a franchise about a man hunting alien could pull off if placed in the right hands. While Predator and Predators focus more on the basic instincts of the hunt, Predator 2 focuses on the environment around the conflict, using savage humor and uncommon brutality to hold up a mirror to an increasingly absurd world dominated by shock value and extremism, even before the terrible reality of 9/11 and the advent of social media. If you intend to revisit the original this week in honor of its anniversary, Predator 2 is an excellent addition. Whether you're intrigued by its all too familiar setting, its Robocop-esque black heart of satire, or Danny Glover's unassailable bad ass, Predator 2 is a thrilling, downright certifiable experience.

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-Kyle Jonathan